Cancer begins when a group of cells begin to grow abnormally and form into a mass, or tumor. The cancer then begins to spread to other cells and parts of the body. The earlier cancer is detected, the sooner the spreading can be stopped. There are often more treatment options available to those who discover the cancer early and treatment is more effective. How do we maximize the ability to catch cancer early? Here are some tips for working with your health care provider(s) to ensure you are being screened at the appropriate times.
-Adults 20 years of age and older, who have regular health exams, should have cancer-related checkups. These may be included during regular health exams and include (depending on the persons age and gender) exams to check for cancers of the thyroid, mouth, skin, lymph nodes, testes/ovaries, and other non-cancerous diseases.
-Breast Cancer: For most women, it is recommended they have a clinical breast exam (by the doctor) about every 3 years during their 20s and 30s, and annualy for women 40 and older. At age 40, women should also begin having annual mammograms. All women should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. Any changes should be promptly reported to their doctor.
-Cervical Cancer: All women should begin having annual Pap smears (unless using the new liquid-based Pap with can be done every 2 years) about 3 years after they become sexually active OR when they turn 21. At age 30, if you have had 3 normal Pap results, you may begin to spread the tests out to every 2-3 years. Women 70 or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap results and no abnormal Pap results in the last 10 years, may stop altogether. Women who have had a complete hysterectomy (unless done as a cancer or precancer treatment) may also stop being tested.
- Endometrial(Uterine) Cancer: Around the time of menopause, all women should be informed of the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Any unexpected bleeding or spotting should be reported to your doctor.
-Colorectal Cancer and Polyps: Beginning at age 50, both men and women should do one of the following: (1)have a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, OR a double contract bariumenema every 5 years, OR CT colonography every 5 years, OR a colonoscopy every 10 years or if one of the previous tests are positive. (2)have an annual fecal occult blood test, OR an annual fecal immunochemical test, OR stool DNA test. All of these tests should consist of multiple stool samples, not just one done by the doctor in the office. If any of the tests are positive, they should be followed up with a colonoscopy.
And for the men in our lives:
-Prostate Cancer: Beginning at age 50, men who have at least a 10-year life expectancy, should have an annual prostate-specific antigen blood test and digital rectal exams.
These test schedules and even the tests offered may differ if you have a personal or family history of cancer or other circumstances. More information is available at The American Cancer Society website. I used one of their brochures, titled Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, for this article.